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Friends' Newsletter Spring 2006 vol. 4 no. 1

| Director's Column | Documentary Discs | The Landscape of Cultivation | Miracles of the Spirit |
| Polkabilly | News From Iowa | Announcements |

Coming in Late June

Polkabilly Cover

Polkabilly, a new book by CSUMC co-director, Jim Leary, will be published by Oxford University Press in late June. The work offers a freewheeling blend of continental European folk music and the songs, tunes, and dances of Anglo and Celtic immigrants. Polkabilly has enthralled American musicians and dancers since the mid-19th century. From West Virginia coal camps and east Texas farms to the Canadian prairies and America's Upper Midwest, scores of groups have wed squeezeboxes with string bands, hoe downs with hambos, and sentimental Southern balladry with comic "up north" broken-English comedy, to create a new and uniquely American sound.

The Goose Island Ramblers (Bruce Bollerud, Smokey George Gilbertsen, and Windy Whitford) played as the house band for a local tavern, Glen and Ann’s, in Madison, Wisconsin from the early 1960s through the mid-1970s. The group epitomized the polkabilly sound with their wild mixture of Norwegian fiddle tunes, Irish jigs, Slovenian polkas, Swiss yodels, old time hillbilly songs, "Scandihoovian" and "Dutchman" dialect ditties, frost-bitten Hawaiian marches, and novelty numbers on the electric toilet plunger. In this original study, James P. Leary illustrates how the Ramblers' multiethnic music combined both local and popular traditions, and how their eclectic repertoire challenges prevailing definitions of American folk music. He thus offers the first comprehensive examination of the Upper Midwest's folk musical traditions within the larger context of American life and culture.

In the estimation of historian Bill C. Malone, author of the definitive Country Music USA, "This is an impressive and convincing piece of scholarship! Those who read it will come away with not only a more sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the vernacular music of the Upper Midwest, but also a broader perspective of what American rural music really is.” Victor Greene, the historian responsible for pioneering books on polka music (A Passion for Polkas) and immigrant song (A Singing Ambivalence), concurs: "Jim Leary has produced a rich, scholarly, and lively account of the making of the little known folk music of the Upper Midwest. He has thus at last raised that style from its local base to its proper place alongside the more familiar, nationally known musics, such as jazz, country, zydeco and others.”

Illustrated with maps and photographs, Polkabilly is accompanied by a compact disk with performances and interview excerpts.

Jim Leary, a folklore and Scandinavian studies professor at UW–Madison, is co-director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.



Last Updated:
February 4, 2009

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